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Percy Vs Goliath: A Welcome Addition To The Onscreen Battle Between Sole Traders And Large Corporations


Words By Arnel Duracak

“…Percy Vs Goliath reminds audiences that sometimes, the little guy can upend the big guy as well”

The big guy vs little guy story has had a plethora of renditions on the big screen ranging from recent films like Dark Waters (2019) and Minamata (2020) to classics like The Rainmaker (1997) and Erin Brockovich (2000). Clark Johnson’s biographical drama, Percy Vs Goliath (or Percy, depending on where you are) sees Christopher Walken deliver a convincing performance and sheds light on the issue of patents and GMO’s (genetically modified organism’s).

Walken plays Percy Schmeiser, a canola farmer who is sued by the Monsanto corporation in 1998 for allegedly possessing and not buying seeds that are contaminated by a patented GMO. With the support of his wife Louise (Roberta Maxwell), a lawyer who advises him against pursuing legal proceedings in Jackson Weaver (played by a hobbling Zach Braff), and an environmental activist in Rebecca Salcau (Christina Ricci), Schmeiser decides to do anything but submit to Monsanto’s requests.

While this type of story has been told better in something like the aforementioned Dark Waters (from recent memory), it does offer a welcomed insight into the issues of patents and precedents that can have wide spanning ramifications on industries like the farming industry. As the film makes apparent, Percy ultimately owed nothing to Monsanto (who has since been acquired by Bayer), but it came at the expense of patents like Monsanto’s becoming more accepted in similar cases. In this sense, Johnson does capture the effects of GMO’s not only on the farming of organic products, but also on the relations between community members.

There is still some vagueness in terms of Percy’s relationship to his community while accusations and court proceedings were being thrown his way. We get a brief insight into the sorts of tensions that emerge (Percy being labelled a thief, name calling, surrounding farmers following his movements etc.), but there isn’t enough there that would give any indication of how these tensions were managed or why they exist  — beyond the farmers simply being in cahoots with Monsanto. Johnson’s primary concern is with the case itself and while that is where the issue at hand gets explored, the court proceedings are quite dull, gimmicky and repetitive.

Percy Vs Goliath (2020) | MUBI

Christopher Walken in Percy Vs Goliath 

What the film is missing is more of those heartfelt moments between Percy and members in his community. During these moments is where Walken gives us a greater sense of the person that was Percy Schmeiser as he channels his own enigmatic persona and gives the character an added layer of relatability. Sure the ‘on the road’ speaking tours also seek to give a sense of relatability and connection to the wider farming communities, but after a point (namely during the trip to India), they become monotonous and border the line of university seminars. In the court sessions (as dull as they may be) lies the distinction between the us and them dynamic at play, but the speaking tour seemed to detract more from that dynamic (as important as it may have been in the wider scheme of things). So in essence, that speaking tour was fine to have, but less time spent on the road and more time spent with Percy would have captured the dynamic between us and them to a greater extent.

When we do spend time in the scenic farmland, there is a greater verisimilitude to Percy’s cause as we feel more connected to the labourer lifestyle. In part, this may be due to Cinematographer Luc Montpellier’s ability to capture the sprawling landscape and the serenity of farming on one’s own terms. Regardless, the glare and warmth of the farmland do more justice for the audiences care for the case than the speaking tours.

As the struggle to keep GMO’s out of organic products continues to permeate the farming sector (with wheat still currently safe from its infiltration), Percy Vs Goliath reminds audiences that sometimes, the little guy can upend the big guy as well.

Percy Vs Goliath opens nationally from the 10th of June 2021


Arnel Duracak


June 8th 2021
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